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Arab Relations

Rent Rise makes Dubai Unaffordable

Aaron Ralston and Michael Thompson

An apartment complex in the Al Muraqqabat province of Dubai provides a snapshot into the living conditions of migrant workers.

The lobby was hot and humid, ten people from Sri Lanka, India, Africa and Pakistan were in the lobby, a manager spoke loudly at his desk, while another man exited the stairwell carrying a mattress.

These are some of the 8.3 million working migrants, according to the UN’s 2011 World Urbanization Prospects, who keep the UAE economy going.

Within one of these apartments plywood sheeting is stacked upon a makeshift wall that the owner has recently finished, converting his lounge into a bedroom.

A Tweety bird poster hangs on the door of the converted room that now houses an Indian couple that moved into the home two days earlier.

A mattress lies on a floor that is covered by clothes, the owner points to wood and tools in the corner that will be used to make a bed, because the couple could not afford one.

Photograph by Michael Thompson

Photograph by Michael Thompson

Rental reform laws were passed by the Dubai government in 2013 causing rental prices to increase by up to 20 percent per year.

Decree number 26 of 2013, passed by Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was implemented to ‘promote economic development and stability for the property sector’, according to the decree.

The decree allows landlords to raise the rental price of a property if it falls below the average price for its area by 11 percent.

The average rental price is determined by the Real Estate Regulatory Agency’s rent index.

One Sri Lankan migrant worker who rents the house wishes to remain anonymous for his safety.

He has been living in Dubai since 1983 and has witnessed first hand how the decree has affected the city, “At the moment the main problem we all have is the rent, the rent has increased.”

The Sri Lankan worker said, “They [landlords] don’t care about us, last year I started in that apartment for 42,000 the last year they increased it to 52,000 then this year they increased it to 75,000”.

“My situation is very bad, I’m not a guy cleaning outside, but that money is not enough to live. I can’t go out with friends anymore to eat, I can’t send money to my son and my son isn’t speaking to me,” He said.

The Indian migrant whom now lives in the converted room had imagined a different life for him and his wife.  

“I was told that Dubai was the land of opportunity, you have to sacrifice a lot, it is beyond expectations to sacrifice,” He said.

The Sri Lankan worker believes he will be forced to leave Dubai at the end of the year because he can’t afford to live here anymore.

“I’m planning to go back to Sri Lanka at the end of this year and without anything, without anything, no retirement, no pension no anything and that is my biggest worry.”

“At the moment, I think it’s evil, I don’t know what has happened to Dubai. The money we make we spend on rent, [the landlords] are sucking your blood, they suck the blood out of you”, he said.